Grace Petrie

 Trinity, Bristol

So. Grace Petrie. She's the shouty, sweary Trot, right? "Like a female, gay, millennial Billy Bragg" I have been known to say.

Well, up to a point. She starts with "Theresa May, let me say, your archaic view of family hold no relevance today" and moves on to "The images which fucked ya were a patriarchal structure and I will not surrender to your narrow view of gender". Her rewrite of Ian Campbell's mighty Old Man's Tale  (sung unaccompanied) is pure polemic.

 "A world of competition
For resources we should share
Was brought about by Thatcher
And made stronger under Blair
But nobody on this earth
Should fight for food or home or health
And I know we won't survive
On every person for themself"

People say she is preaching to the converted, she says, but that's because they are the only ones who come to her gigs.

And come they certainly do: the people in front of me had heard her the previous night in Bath as well, and one of them seemed to be planning to follow her all around the country when she tours with Frank Turner next year. She manages to be both a consummate show-person and to maintain an informal, chatty relationship with her audience. She keeps asking people to come forward and fill up the mosh pit (the small space at the front of the stage) and asks us tall people to fall back and let the small ones come forward. The audience know her tunes and wear her teeshirts, but they are here to listen to her. When her very folkie accompanist, Ben Moss, gets to do one of his own songs (a damn fine reworking of a Reynard ballad) everyone listens politely and applauds enthusiastically.

That self-described "angry lesbian" is really only one side of Grace Petrie. She's really a confessional singer; talking about, yes, what politics means to her; but also about being on the road; shopping in Ikea; and seeming to alternate love-songs about her latest flames and painful accounts of her most recent break-up. No gig is complete without the touching story about the birth of her sister's first baby

And then we drove all night from Glastonbury to meet you home
When you were ready to arrive, Ivy
And I drove until the sun came up to beat you home
All the way up the M5, Ivy
And being early for someone was a first for me
But I thought my heart would burst if you got there before me.

Lockdown looms large in everyones act at the moment. Storm To Weather is one of the best new songs to come out of the pandemic. It's a clever metaphor for isolation, a stonking tune that (like all the best tunes)  reminds me of something that I can't quite put my finger on, and lovely folksie arrangement. (Like any true folk singer, she understands that singing the chorus seventeen times is seventeen times more fun than singing it just once.) Perhaps the Sea Shanty craze got to her: I could imagine Fishermen's Friends (or, preferably, Show of Hands) covering this one. (She also sings one called Haul Away.) 

I saw her playing in a tiny sticky Bristol bar back in June 2017. "The pundits are saying that they didn't see this coming; but we fucking did..." Another week or two and we would have won the election outright: next time for sure. That time the audience spent the interval talking to each other about how this was the first time they'd ever gone canvassing. But then 2019 happened and her closing song is about that defeat. The personal is the political, as the fellow said. It's sad and scary but not despairing: 

The history books are screaming from the shelves
No government who outlaws speaking to defend ourselves
Has good things planned. A storm ahead I see
And none of us will bear it without solidarity

And if I spend my life the losing side
You can lay me down knowing that I tried
There’s a better world and on a quiet day
When I hold my breath
I can hear her say
She is on her way

It's sad to think that a lot of people in the party we previously held out such hope for would regard Grace as a Trot for singing this stuff and me as Trot for being there. A traitor, even. The party in power think we should all be reported to Prevent. 

We're in the up-stairs space at Trinity. It rather wears its status as a former church on its sleeve: there's a huge stained glass window backing onto the stage. Grace Petrie is amused by this: she says that "lapsed" is an inadequate word for the kind of catholic she is: someone on the audience proposes "recovering".

Well, yes. God is not her thing. But I can't help thinking that Jesus would have been more on board with her alternative version of the national anthem than with the official one.

God save the hungry, God save the poor
God save those desperate souls whose lives were torn apart by war
God save the homeless and those with disabilities
And all the other targets of this heartless ideology
And there's a long and shameful list
Of folks we need God to assist
But those who sleep in palaces at night
I think they're doing alright

No comments: